J. Cole gives students industry insight

Hip-hop artist J. Cole surprised the college when he showed up to speak about the music industry to four classes in the Business & Entrepreneurship Department on Nov. 19 in the Hokin Lecture Hall of the 623 S. Wabash Ave. Building.

By Campus Editor

Jermaine Lamarr Cole, better known as J. Cole, visited Columbia  on Nov. 19 to promote his new album and give his insight into the music industry.

The event was conducted as a Q-and-A session with four classes from the Business & Entrepreneurship Department in the Hokin Lecture Hall of the 623 S. Wabash Ave. Building. Prior to the event, students knew a major-label artist would be visiting. However, because the artist’s identity was kept a secret until the event, students were caught by surprise when Cole arrived.

The Fayetteville, North Carolina-native began the session by detailing his own experience as an artist and college student attending St. John’s University in New York City. He said although he had been making music since he was a teenager, he did not sign a record deal with Roc Nation until 2009, two years after he graduated from college.

“This whole time I was making music that I thought was amazing,” Cole said. “Obviously I’m biased, but then this guy named Jay-Z thought the same thing. So then he signed me, and I’ve been on a journey for the past five years trying to grow my career.”

Cole spoke about the inspiration behind 2014 Forest Hills Drive, his third official album, which is set to drop Dec. 9. Discussing industry marketing methods, he explained that the way he marketed the upcoming album was unconventional because he did not drop a single prior to its release. 

“I just announced the album on Sunday, three weeks before my album comes out,” Cole said. “For a major label, they are not cool with that at all, but I wanted to take my career into my own hands. I’m not going to be a slave to old ways of doing business.”

Cole said the album title is inspired by the address of his childhood home, which he lost during his first year of college when the house was foreclosed.

“My house got snatched from me real suddenly, and it always left a bad taste in my mouth,” Cole said. “But all that changed this past summer because I bought that house back. The first house I’ve ever owned was 2014 Forest Hills Drive in the year 2014, which makes it such a crazy, full-circle moment, and that’s when I knew this was meant to be.”

Lucas Blanc, an urban college marketing representative for Sony Music Entertainment and a junior business & entrepreneurship major, said he organized the event when Sony inquired about the possibility of J. Cole speaking to students pursuing careers in the music industry. Blanc said the event was successful in educating students about the industry and J. Cole’s history.

“One of the biggest things I took away was what a humbling guy he is and how inspiring it is for someone in his caliber to come and talk to college students in a more intimate setting rather than doing a big event for everybody to come,” Blanc said. “He once went to college, and he knows what we’re going through, so he wants to relate to us.”

Blanc said the event was relevant to attendees not pursuing music careers because Cole was able to take music industry concepts and translate them to several different disciplines.

“He wanted to open it up for everyone—whatever your life goal may be,” Blanc said. “I hope other students took away what I took away—that someone that famous is just another regular person who has the same struggles and that anyone can make it as long as you have passion.”

Although Blanc said he does not currently have any official plans for upcoming events, he anticipates bringing more artists to campus in the future for other events.

Jerry Brindisi, an assistant professor in the Business & Entrepreneurship Department, brought his “Decision Making: Music Business Management” class to the event. He said he wanted students to get industry advice from a current and upcoming artist, and he also said the event went well because although Cole was there to promote his new album, he made efforts to connect with students.

“He really spent the bulk of the time listening to the students and trying to answer their questions rather than just talking about himself,” Brindisi said. “Whether students were really interested in J. Cole specifically as an artist or not, he brought up how he engages the industry, and I thought it was really important for students to hear how he looks at it.”

Cole also spoke to students about not letting fear hold them back from taking risks in the industry, a concept Brindisi said he teaches in his classes.

“Something that resonated with me is this idea of being afraid or concerned with what people might think of you,” Brindisi said. “What J. Cole said is really impactful [because] if you have those fears, they will hold you back and stop you from reaching your goals.”